Fleet’s new film brings national parks to life

Posted: March 25th, 2016 | Balboa Park, Feature, Top Story | No Comments

By Tori Hahn | SDCNN Intern

Fighting 25-below-zero temperatures and exhaustion from ice climbing off the shores of Lake Superior, Rachel Pohl’s muscles finally shut down. She was lowered from the ice shelf and had to worry that the multimillion-dollar camera that captured her moment of weakness would broadcast it across the country.

“I just couldn’t hold on to my ice tools,” Pohl said. “My hands were frozen; I was just so tired.”

Arresting scenes like this embody director MacGillivray Freeman’s newest family-friendly movie, “National Parks Adventure,” which premiered March 18 at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.

The film follows 22-year-old Pohl, mountaineer Conrad Anker and photographer Max Lowe on their journey exploring more than 30 national parks across the country.

National Parks Adventure photo 1webtop

(l to r) Conrad Anker, Max Lowe and Rachel Pohl take a break from mountain biking in Moab, Utah to scan the horizon of Canyonlands National Park. (Photo by Barbara MacGillivray)

Moviegoers will be able to watch from the comfort of their seats as the explorers climb, bike and hike through freezing and scorching temperatures.

“[I wanted to] inspire people to get outside and remember that you don’t need to be consuming things … because going outside gives you perspective and this interconnectedness with all things that you don’t get when you’re looking at your cellphone screen,” Pohl said.

Luckily for San Diegans, the nearest national monument lies close by, just at the southern tip of Point Loma. The Cabrillo National Monument features the Old Point Loma Lighthouse and boasts of sweeping ocean views.

“A primary theme of ‘National Parks Adventure’ is conservation and appreciation of our natural landscapes,” Steve Snyder, CEO of the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, said in a press release. “Many of the people who live in San Diego and visit the city are drawn here by the natural beauty of the landscape and the outdoor opportunities in and around the city. … We hope that our visitors will all leave the film with a renewed appreciation of the wonders of nature and the importance of preserving it.”

The movie provides a taste of wildlife for those who may not have the time, money or physical capability to explore the nation’s 58 preserved parks.

Many who do make it out to the national parks still might not experience them quite like Pohl, Anker and Lowe did.

During the month it took to film “National Parks Adventure,” mornings often started with 4:30 a.m. wake-up calls and a bite of breakfast before facing the day’s latest expedition: anything from ice climbing Lake Superior in Michigan to mountain biking through Moab, Utah.

The movie required major feats in filming, which forced the climbers to sacrifice their normal expedition routines. Sometimes it took three hours to set up a shoot because of the camera’s need for precision, Pohl said.

“It was crazy just trying to do what you do and act natural after sitting around for hours and hours waiting for the light or waiting for the shot to be set up,” she said.

“There were times where we’d be really, really cold and if we weren’t filming we’d be able to keep warm, keep moving, keep climbing. But instead we had to play the patience game.”

Conrad Anker climbs Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming. (Photo by Barbara MacGillivray)

Conrad Anker climbs Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming. (Photo by Barbara MacGillivray)

The adventurer described their biggest challenges while producing the film, including the time she hiked a 130-foot rock tower in Arches National Park 12 times to get the right shot.

“I would climb this top part over and over again,” she said. “And this is sandstone — this beautiful rich, red sandstone. So I would just get sand in my eyes and my teeth, and I’d just be smiling.”

The 22-year-old reminisced on her downtime between taping, which she spent reflecting on the breathtaking scenery around her. Now, Pohl hopes to encourage other people to have their own national parks stories.

“My goal was just to have people want to go outside and realize that you don’t have to spend a fortune going to another country — you can go to parks,” Pohl said. “They’re the coolest thing about our country.”

“National Parks Adventure” is 43 minutes long and will show daily in the Heikoff Giant Dome Theater through Sept. 1. For showtimes, visit

—Tori Hahn is an intern with SDCNN and a senior majoring in journalism at San Diego State University.

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